How not to clean your house

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We clean too much. Why do I say that? It’s honestly not just self-serving bollocks because I hate housework. It’s more that when you add up all the hours and hours of hoovering and rehoovering the same carpet and ironing the same shirt/washing the same pan 35 times, the opportunity cost is enormous. There are better things we can be doing with our precious time.

While I hate cliches (like the plague) I really do believe there’s something in that hoary old fridge magnet wisdom of our kitchens being ‘clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy’. Of course everyone will have their own comfort levels too from ‘lack of coaster = medical emergency’ to ‘wipe your feet on the way out’ but there has to be a way we can all divert a bit more time to the good stuff, so if like me, you’re balancing long hours out of the house with trying to to have a home which is not actively a biohazard, here are are few hacks I’ve learned in 50 years of shirking as much domestic activity as possible:

  1. Never buy anything it’s too fiddly to clean. I stopped using my old juicer because it was just to much of a faff to dismantle and clean. My Nutribullet is in constant use because all it needs is a quick rinse out and the same goes for the utterly genius Nespresso aerolatte.
  2. Throw, throw, throw away. I bought Marie Kondo’s ‘Life Changing Magic of Cleaning’ and then managed to lose it under a pile of laundry for about  six months (the irony is not lost on me). When I finally managed to read it, it made me much more radical and I had a productive couple of weekends shifting about twenty binbags of books, clothes and toys, Ebaying outgrown Lego and paring down cupboards full of stuff we never used. Marie wants us to feel joy looking at every thing we give house room to. She also advises against secretly disposing of other people’s things. Sorry Marie.
  3. Have a home for everything and keep it there. I actually have an excel spreadsheet (sad) but it makes a massive difference if you know where each item lives and can find it when you need to. The downside is that when I find the meat carving dish in the same wrong cupboard every single time a little bit of me dies inside…
  4. Get on to the hard stuff (not gin – that comes later). Some products are just worth spending a bit extra on because they’ll save you so much time. Did you know that if you stick your head at an angle (a bit like a demented emu) down the toilet, there is a bit UNDER the rim that you can actually clean. No, neither did I until (because of an imminent visit from my mother in law) I made a slightly more thorough study of bog cleanliness. To this end, I love HG. We have really hard water and their toilet renovation kit is a thing of beauty to use a couple of times a year. Other magic bottles to add to your box of tricks are a good limescale remover like Viakal or Limelite, and for bathroom general cleaning, Cillit Bang. In the kitchen, always go for high end dishwasher tabs and washing up liquid.
  5. For the rest of the house, a good sucky vacuum is a must, a steamer for hard floors is brilliant and a small hand held vac like the Dyson Animal is a lifesaver. Wipes feel indulgent but a packet of glass wipes for windows and mirrors and general antibac wipes for things like window surrounds are a good investment.
  6. Go top to bottom. If you’re doing a couple of hours graft, get all your cleaning stuff in one room and blitz it. Dust or wipe surfaces, sweep, hoover or steam, floors. Keep a bag for life with you and fill it with stuff that needs moving to other rooms so you can drop it off as you go. Move on through the house, opening windows, collecting bed linen, bins and washing up as you go. Wear socks because bare footprints on recently steamed floors are…ick.  Eventually you become a kind of maximally efficient housekeeping vortex and woe betide anyone who gets in the way of your whirring limbs.
  7. Only iron when you have a box set to binge on.
  8. When it comes to maintaining, ten minutes a day of surface wiping, dishwasher stacking, laundry folding (one pile per destination room) and hoovering the bits you absolutely must.
  9. Don’t do a journey up our downstairs without taking something (a mug, some washing) that needs to come with you.
  10. In extremis on a bad day you could simply pretend there’s method in your chaos and that you’re operating a micro version of Amazon’s ‘random stow’.  Stopping short of that, have a big trug somewhere handy like the hall where you can just dump stuff that need putting away but which you can’t be arsed to right now.

And the main thing is ‘accept’. When you live with two lanky blokes and a large hairy dog the house won’t stay pristine (if it’s ever been pristine) for long. You need to develop an unseeing eye. I remember a friend once opening a blind in the sitting room which  had not been touched in about 7 years. It disgorged about a litre of dust and cobwebs and a long defunct plastic penguin game but until that point it had remained blissfully, dustily, unnoticed.  Remember what they eye doesn’t see, the inner Anthea Turner can’t grieve over.

So there, for what it’s worth, are the tips. But whatever you do, just aim for your comfortable level of clean, leave it at that and enjoy the hours you can devote to glorious woodland walks, sitting in pubs and reading books in the bath.

Anything I’ve missed? What are your best shortcuts out of domestic drudgery?

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How to grow old gratefully

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Cheery thought to start this blog. We’re all getting old. We’re all dying – just a little bit every day. Bear with me on this – it gets better. Obviously none of this is news to any of us but there’s something about getting to 50 ish that suddenly brings the whole immortality (or lack of it) thing into sharper focus.

One of my friends expressed it really well. ‘It’s as if’, she said, ‘we’re at the top of a hill and suddenly you’re looking down and seeing the other side for the first time’. And although it’s downhill all the way, it doesn’t have to feel like that. What we DO have to do now is put a bit more thought into what’s really important.

Suddenly I realise I’ll almost certainly never get a PhD. Do I want one? Maybe not. And I guess if I’d wanted one badly enough, I’d have done something about it before now. Barring unusual events, I won’t have any more children. I’ll never compete in the Olympics or be a world class equestrian (to be fair this was pretty evident when I was 14 and riding with all the grace and co-ordination of a potato sack on a three legged donkey). Possibilities start to close off. Just as we’re telling our children the world is their oyster, ours starts to snap shut.

You always remember when you first make that ‘old person’s noise’ when you get up. I was in a churchyard, sitting on a low wall. It was the same week that my most acerbic friend told me that when the sunlight caught my hair it was ‘old lady red’

We all know the story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – the adorable baby princess who is bestowed with gifts by her fairy godmothers – beauty, wit, intelligence  – but just as it’s all going well, in flies a wicked stepmother and declares she’ll be… bald. Oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

In real life, the wicked stepmother has cursed us all with stuff but most of it only happens when you’re 50+. I’m incredibly lucky to have avoided the worst of it so far (no hot flushes, no insomnia) but Time’s winged chariot is already flinging out a nice collection of wrinkles and my hair is clearly starting to ponder its course into grey – alas not the silver unicorn mane my mother in law is blessed with but a pan-scourer-in-waiting affect which can only be combated with industrial supplies of leave in conditioner and hair colour (strictly away from the red spectrum).

This blog is about being positive so let’s have a go at that. One friend of around the same age as  me told me she quite enjoyed the hot flushes because it warmed her up on a cold day. So there’s that. Another’s mine’s mother warned her darkly ‘you’ll need to watch yourself at night’. We’ve had hours of fun speculating about what this could mean. might we become insatiable nymphos? Turn into fearsome werewolves? We’ll let you know.

I’ve saved the best thing about getting older until last. It’s that we know stuff. We’ve been there and done it (and quite probably put the tee-shirt in the wash with a duster and had to throw it away).

The time I wanted to make my car all sparkly for its trade in so I cleaned it with a brillo pad (who knew car paint was so…fragile?)

The time I put henna over bleach and had to go to a big event looking like a can of Heinz tomato soup.

The time I bought thermals and decided to wear them to work as leggings with a jacket without noticing they were completely transparent at the back. OK that was only last month. But…we live and learn and we’ll do both those things here so jump on board.